A late game rally by the San Luis Obispo Blues came up short Friday night as the Conejo Oaks held on for a 7-6 win in the first round of the California Collegiate League Tournament at SLO Stadium.
The Oaks looked like they would cruise to a win in the bottom of the fifth inning when center fielder Zach Gibbons hit a double the cleared the bases and stretched the Oaks' lead to 6-1.
After leaving the bases loaded in the third inning, the Blues made a charge in a three-run seventh inning, in part due to a two-run double by Corey Hassel, but were stopped when slumping shortstop Nick King grounded out.
Tempers and bats flared throughout the game and into the ninth inning. A solo home run by Corey Hassel to start the top of the ninth inning fired up the Blues and pulled them within 7-5. After a flyout by Dustin Williams, Tanner Gardner sent a shot into the night sky that was caught by an Oaks outfielder on the warning track. The shot sparked up the Blues’ dugout and drew a warning from the umpires.
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But closer Kevin Torres was able to navigate the middle of the Blues order even after giving up a RBI to double to King that made it 7-6 and close out the game on a flyout.
Blues starting pitcher Jacob Patterson gave up three runs in the bottom of the third inning and picked up the loss. Oaks starter Rafael Ramirez tossed a gem for most of the game, surrendering just one run in 6⅓ innings of work, before giving up three runs in the seventh inning.
The teams combined for 21 hits.
Hometown Home Run: After playing two scoreless innings, San Luis Obispo High graduate Davey Casciola changed that with one swing. The 6-foot-3 switch-hitter who plays at Cal Lutheran, led off in the bottom of the third inning for the Oaks and parked a Patterson pitch next to the buses behind the left field wall. The blast sailed over Blues left fielder Gardner’s head so quickly his feet stayed planted.
Wasted Opportunity: The Blues had a chance to get on the board first in the top of the third inning when the bases were loaded for Gardner with two outs. The Texas Tech switch-hitter, who is third on the team in batting average (.344) ended the inning with a weak grounder to second base. It was Gardner’s final game with the Blues. He will be making his way back to Texas before the Blues' next game. The Blues also left the bases loaded in the seventh.
Startling Stat: When Blues shortstop King slipped while trying to field a ground ball in the bottom of the sixth inning, it continued a sloppy trend. The Blues have had at least one error in 35 of their 47 games. The Blues made it multiple errors in 21 games after two more errors later Friday. King, who will be a senior at Georgia this season, has 17 errors on the season.
Best Blues: Quinn Walbergh has been red-hot of late, and that trend continued Friday night. The third baseman was 3 for 4 and added to his team leading .385 batting average. Hassel was also 3 for 4 with that late home run and four RBI.
Weird Play: It was a night full of weird plays and controversial calls, something to be expected in a postseason game. Both managers got plenty of face time with the umpires, including a couple of close calls that didn’t go the Blues’ way. The strangest encounter was in the top of the eighth inning when the home plate umpire pointed to the Blues’ dugout and tossed a player, but no one knew who it was. When the dust settled and Clark had a chat with the umpire, incoming Cal Poly freshman Nigel Ward was sent to the stands.
What’s Next: The Blues, who are now relegated to the loser's bracket, will play the Neptune Beach Pearl Saturday at 10 a.m. A loss Saturday would end the season.